Album for the Young. No. 31. Song of War

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The recording is splendid. It goes without saying that no one ensemble can unlock all the secrets contained in these quartets. They offer eminently civilised, thoughtful and aristocratic readings.

Their approach is reticent but they also convey a strong sense of making music in domestic surroundings. Taken in isolation, however, the Quartetto Italiano remain eminently satisfying both musically and as recorded sound. In Opp 74 and 95, they more than hold their own against all comers. These are finely proportioned readings, poised and articulate. The gain in clarity because of the remastering entails a very slight loss of warmth in the middle register, but as recordings the late quartets, made between and , can hold their own against their modern rivals.

Not all of these received universal acclaim at the time of their first release. The opening fugue of Op is too slow at four-in-the-bar and far more espressivo than it should be, but, overall, these performances still strike a finely judged balance between beauty and truth, and are ultimately more satisfying and searching than most of their rivals.

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Review of Vol 3 - The Late Quartets: Late Beethoven is all about contrasts: prayer and play, structural logic and emotional candour, relative convention and daring. All this conceived in the prison of deafness, perhaps the greatest of all musical miracles. Readers who know these works have little use for such guidelines and yet interpreters have to think harder; they need to convey what at times sounds like a stream of musical consciousness while respecting the many written markings.

Attenuated inflections are honoured virtually to the letter, textures carefully differentiated, musical pauses intuitively well-timed and inner voices nearly always transparent.

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They do Beethoven proud and no one could reasonably ask for more. Rob Cowan May Rob Cowan February The Gramophone Award in the chamber-music repertory went to the Lindsay Quartet's set of the late Beethoven quartets and it is a measure of the inexhaustibility of these great works that they have also claimed 's vote. The Alban Berg are the first to give us them on CD, and the medium certainly does justice to the magnificently burnished tone that the Alban Berg command, and the perfection of blend they so consistently achieve.

In terms of sheer technical address, tonal finesse and balance, they enjoy a superiority over almost every other ensemble of their generation. Indeed some listeners, particularly those brought up on the Busch or Vegh Quartets, may find the sheer polish of their playing gets in the way, for this can be an encumbrance; late Beethoven is beautified at its peril. But so far as sheer quartet playing is concerned, it is likely to remain unchallenged.

Robert Layton Up to a point the length of a review should denote importance — and were this the case, this notice ought to occupy many pages! This is an indispensable set — as revealing of the Beethoven quartets as Schnabel is of the sonatas, and if it were ever correct to speak of any performances as definitive, this is an instance when one might be tempted to do so. The Busch's Beethoven set standards by which successive generations of quartets were judged — and invariably found wanting!

Their insight and wisdom, their humanity and total absorption in Beethoven's art has to my mind never been surpassed and only sporadically matched, even by such modern ensembles as the Vegh and the Lindsay! These performances are so superb that despite their sonic limitations I still think it possible to recommend them to younger non-specialist collectors, even in these days of the Compact Disc. Of course, there are the occasional portamentos that were in general currency in the s but are unfashionable now, but I can't say that I find them irksome. Whatever set you may already have, be it the Hollywood, the Lindsay, the Alban Berg or the Quartetto Italiano, you will not regret adding this to your collection.

And what a line-up: three supreme Soviet artists, for whom Czechoslovakia represented a taste of freedom while the West remained out of bounds. These are strong-jawed readings with a great sense of purpose and, even when some of the details are a bit shaky and tuning and ensemble less than pristine , they are never less than compelling Pianist and cellist are united by a rare unity of purpose and stylistic consistency, whether in strength and exuberance, an enriching sense of complexity or in other-worldly calm often abruptly terminated.

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Competition is of course thick on the ground, not least from Isserlis and Levin playing a tremendously characterful McNulty fortepiano , which was an obvious choice for Record of the Month in February But Phillips and Guy deserve that accolade just as richly and their utterly different sound world is equally riveting.

A cellist who tends towards introversion; a fortepianist who tends the other way. Put them together and something magical happens within the tensions they engender. Think of repose in C major for 27 bars until the switch to the main movement; and the sudden shock of a fortissimo chord in A minor is ruder than it would be on a modern piano. No politesse from Levin.

What follows is an untrammelled Allegro vivace , two-in-a-bar as marked, tempo changes graphic, every sforzando or accent stabbing the texture, Isserlis unfurling the vehemence also implicit in his lines. Recover from the onslaught and return to the beginning, to Op 5 No 1. It manifests itself again, but now in F major and at a slower tempo, Adagio sostenuto.

Isserlis has the theme but Levin is no mere accompanist, fastidious in his role as a partner yet one who never overwhelms the cello, even in the chords and roulades during a brief spell of agitation towards the end of this introduction. What did Beethoven often add? With something more — a trenchant edge, probably arising from the timbres of the fortepiano, its light action and fast transients One small illustration will demonstrate the special character of these performances. The fourth of the final variations of Sonata No 6 begins with three unaccompanied violin chords played piano.

Often, violinists seem embarrassed by these, or else create a somewhat eccentric effect. The following minor-key variation shows how both players can bring flexibility and fluidity to their performance, with the confidence that they will be sympathetically accompanied.


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By comparison, the excellent studio set by Isabelle Faust and Alexander Melnikov appears more studied. In the finales of this sonata and of the Kreutzer , Faust and Melnikov are slightly faster and more brilliant but Tiberghien and Ibragimova, with superb poise and control, appear more carefree and joyful. Duncan Druce July The musical sleight of hand used by these expert players to focus the very different character of each sonata is in itself cause for wonder.

Though quite different as musical personalities — Faust, subtle and quietly formal; Melnikov, a master of the meaningful pause — the combination of the two fires a laser between the staves.


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Fleetness and elegance are very much to the fore in the Op 12 set, beauty of tone, too, especially in the First Sonata. The more dramatic sonatas are muscular yet very light on their feet. Of the three Op 30 sonatas, the kernel is the C minor, where Faust and Melnikov strike a perfect balance between fire and ice. It is hardly credible that all this interpretative accomplishment was achieved by a pianist who, at the time, was still only in his early twenties, and who would subsequently divide his musical activities between the Viennese classics and varieties of jazz.

There are certain records that seem to capture the very moment when a fledgling virtuoso first confronts a great corpus of musical work, and this marvellous set represents such a confrontation. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Rob Cowan October Wilhelm Kempff was the most inspirational of Beethoven pianists.

Fascinatingly, his pre-war recordings of the Beethoven sonatas on 78s are represented too. By and large he did. In order to clarify the music it is often necessary to make certain notes obscure. They are virtuoso readings that demonstrate a blazing intensity of interpretative vision as well as breathtaking manner of execution.


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And if this suggests recklessness, well, in many other instances the facts are quite other, for Schnabel has a great sense of decorum. He can, in many of the smaller sonatas and some of the late ones, be impeccably mannered, stylish and urbane.

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Equally he can be devilish or coarse. Like me, you may well cherish your beloved sets by Schnabel, Kempff and Brendel to name but three , but Lewis surely gives you the best of all possible worlds; one devoid of idiosyncrasy yet of a deeply personal musicianship. Admirably recorded, this three-disc set is crowned with a scholarly and illuminating essay by Jean-Paul Montagnier. Bryce Morrison June Make no mistake, this is playing of the highest order of mastery. Superb rhythmic grip, sensitivity to line and gradation of tone, a masterly control of the long paragraph; all these are features of this remarkable reading.

There is no doubt, I think, that this is great piano-playing. Robert Layton January Few works of music stimulate active and stressful thinking - anxious thought complementing the music's search for resolvable sounds - than the Hammerklavier. Nor is it a work which is easily mastered physically. Pollini, on DG, strikes me as being too obviously masterful; Brendel, on Philips, less so. Of all pianists, Schnabel on his HMV recording perhaps comes closest to conveying a reckless, all-or-nothing mood, allied to a terrier-like grasp of argument and a sure instinct for the work's persistent striving for release into uninhibited song.

Yet there are scrambles and mistakes in his performance which were avoided, with minimal loss to the music's headlong impetus, in the famous Solomon recording, whose absence from the catalogue is much to be regretted. Like Solomon, Gilels gives us an outstanding reading of the vast slow movement. The tempo is spacious, apt to Gilels's mastery of the music's anisometric lines and huge paragraphs, paragraphs as big as an East Anglian sky.

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